Facebook faces frustrating future

Giving up FacebookFacebook is undeniably a success. Every day, 618 million users log in, being about half of the entire membership. And in the past year it has almost doubled its income from advertising. All good news.

But….

In the UK alone, in January, 600,000 people closed their accounts; indeed account closure is a common everyday feature for the folks at Facebook. Of course, that’s only to be expected – the bigger your web service, the more obvious the negatives will be. Even so, with almost 1.5 billion users, hundreds of thousands of account closures is comparatively small fry.

Nowadays, though, those negatives seem to be getting louder. Every day now I meet people who say they are frustrated with Facebook. This time last year I was meeting people who were all saying how much Facebook had helped them. Of course, this is only anecdotal impressions; it is not hard data. Facebook themselves collect hard data and they have noticed that people are getting increasingly frustrated. So it isn’t just my personal connections. In an interview with The Inquirer newspaper, Jane Leibrock, the User Experience Researcher at Facebook, said that people had started to complain about being unable to focus on things so well.

Up until recently, Facebook was the place to go to chat with your friends. Now, because Facebook needs to finance things more, your friends are less visible than adverts, promoted posts and the activity of people who aren’t really your close friends. Now, it is true, of course that you can control much of this – but that requires delving into settings and constantly managing your Facebook page. In other words, making Facebook function the way users want it to has become more complex for them.

That’s the second step in frustration and annoyance. First, Facebook make it more difficult to see what you really want to see and then it makes it cumbersome for you to control that. Admittedly, Facebook is constantly striving to accommodate better ways of giving people the information they want. However, therein lies the problem for Facebook.

By giving us what we want, they cannot easily “monetize” their site. They need to show more promoted posts and adverts in order to reach the dizzy financial heights of Google, for instance. But the more Facebook does this, the more we complain and the more people leave.

Facebook seems to be at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Gartner Hype Cycle. That means before too long it will plummet to the “Trough of Disillusionment”. It means that we can expect a year or two of increasing turmoil with increasing numbers of people leaving and more negative noise about Facebook. But if the management get it right and balance what we want with what they want you can be sure that Facebook will be a fundamental part of the Internet for many years to come.

But if the management at Facebook get it wrong…? Well, that means we could be into the last couple of years of this giant which will end up sleeping in some distant corner of the web. We are at the tipping point where everything now depends on whether Facebook can keep enough users happy to make enough money.

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